Brigadier Paul Yonge AO
BE, FIE Aust., FIArbA
Brigadier Yonge graduated from the Royal Military College,
Duntroon in 1943 following which he saw service in the 2nd AIF
and the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan.
Graduating from Sydney University in Engineering in 1949 he
saw subsequent service in Korea, UK, USA, and Australia.
Between 1966 and 1968 he was Chief Engineer, Eastern
Command. Following service in Vietnam in 1971 he was
appointed Director General of Accommodation and Works,
and also Engineer in Chief, Australian Army from 1972 to 1974.
His final posting 1975 to 1980 was Director General of Materiel,
following which he retired.
MILITARY Engineering, throughout the history of
warfare, is the name given to armies’ activities which
improve the mobility and technical effectiveness of their
own forces, and impede the mobility of their enemies.
From earliest times, military engineering included road
building, bridge building, water supply, harbour works,
defence works, the use of machines and engines of war,
sapping and mining and the destruction of roads, bridges
and defences to deny them to the enemy.
Military engineering came to the ACT in 1911 at the
Royal Military College, Duntroon, where it was practised
by the staff cadets as part of their military training. Long
before the first military bridge was erected across the
Molonglo, the practice of Military Engineering had led to
the naming of its counterpart — Civil Engineering. Civil
Engineering was practiced in the construction of RMC,
As Civil Engineering developed in the 19th century into
other branches of engineering such as mechanical and
electrical, the Navy and Army encompassed these
engineering branches within their own functions. Their
use of other branches of engineering was always in a
manner peculiarly suited to their own needs of warfare —
they used them for military purposes. In later years,
aeroplanes were added to the range of military weapons;
with them came further engineering requirements not only
aeronautical, but also aerodrome construction and other
associated activities. It was therefore reasonable to think of
all uses of engineering by the armed forces collectively as
The Navy in 1912 was primarily a user of mechanical and
electrical engineering. However, development of the
Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay, was a civil
engineering project. The Army in 1911 was still on foot or
horseback and was oriented towards civil engineering
although, at Duntroon, a steam tractor was used for
hauling coal to the boilers. The electricity supply was
provided by the Army’s own generating equipment, on
loan from the fortress engineers who used it for power and
searchlights in the coastal fortifications.
From these simple beginnings in the ACT, both the
Navy and Army and later the Air Force, (established in
1921) developed their military engineering capacities to
encompass virtually every branch and facet of engineering.
The three Services’ engineering is now controlled from
Canberra by their engineering staffs within the Department
of Defence at Russell Offices and Campbell Park.
The engineer Headquarters and offices and the engineer
staffs of the Defence group were in most cases established
when the Department of Defence and the three Services
were still located in Melbourne.
The move to Canberra of these staffs extended over the
period of the 1950s to the 1970s, being dependent on the
speed of construction of accommodation at Russell and
later at Campbell Park. During this period, not only did
the Services vary their organisations, but the Department
of Defence itself changed greatly as a result of Government
initiatives. By the mid 1970s, the policy for all aspects of
military engineering emanated from Canberra.
ROYAL MILITARY COLLEGE, DUNTROON
In January 1910, Lord Kitchener, whose early service in
the British Army was in the Royal Engineers, visited
Australia at the invitation of the Federal Government to
advise it on the defences of the Commonwealth. One of his
recommendations was that Australia should establish a
college for the training of officers of the permanent
As a result, Colonel William Throsby Bridges, Australian
representative on the Imperial General Staff in
London, was instructed to visit and report on military
colleges in England and North America. He inspected
Woolwich and Sandhurst in England, Kingston in Canada
and West Point in the United States of America. He arrived
back in Australia on 30 May 1910 and was appointed
Commandant of the Military College of Australia with the
rank of Brigadier-General.
The Government decided that the Military College was
to be established near the Federal Capital. Consequently,
Bridges visited the Federal Capital site and selected
Duntroon which was the homestead of a sheep station
established by Robert Campbell in 1825. On November 7,
1910, a lease of the homestead and 370 acres of land for two
years was granted by the owner, Colonel John Edward
Campbell, a grandson of Robert Campbell, who lived in
England. The rental was £750 per year with the right of
renewal for a further two years pending negotiations for
purchase of the property.
The boundaries of the College were the Yass—Queanbeyan
Road, Woolshed Creek, the Molonglo River and
Mount Pleasant. The willows on the banks of the
Molonglo grew from the first willows brought from
Napoleon’s tomb at St. Helena by William Balcombe,
Colonial Treasurer of New South ‘Wales.
Buildings and Engineering Services
The provision of buildings and services to support the
establishment of the College at Duntroon generally
predated the engineering development of Canberra.
Accordingly, it was necessary for the College to be a self
supporting entity for a number of years as far as engineering
services were concerned.
The development of the College commenced under the
management of the Department of Home Affairs as soon as
the lease of Duntroon was completed in 1910.
When work commenced on the College, Duntroon
House had been empty for many years and required
renovation throughout to enable use of the building.
Robert Campbell had erected a one-storey stone building
with Australian cedar joinery in 1833. A large two-storey
stone wing, also with cedar joinery, was added by his son
George in 1862. After renovations, this fine building
became the Officers Mess of the Military College in 1911,
and also housed the offices of the Commandant and his
personal staff. It is still used for these purposes.
The construction was started of five 16-man cadet
barrack blocks, the cadets mess (to seat 150), the sergeants
mess and the mess for subordinate staff, the workshop, the
classroom block, science laboratories and meteorological
observatory, the lecture theatre (to seat 200), two quartermasters
stores, stables, five officers quarters, the parade
ground and playing fields.
Construction was generally of asbestos cement with
timber lining, or timber, with corrugated iron roofing. The
five officers quarters (for the Commandant, the Director
of Military Art, the Director of Drill, the Professor of
Mathematics and the Professor of Physics) were of block
and rough cast two-storey construction and remain today
(in Parnell Road) as do four timber officers quarters
commenced the following year (in Harrison Road).
Fig. 9.1: Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay. Workshop under construction 1913.
Fig. 9.2: RANC, Jervis Bay; Sea wall under construction 1913.
Fig. 9.3: Royal Military College, Duntroon 1911. Steam tractor hauling coal to boiler house.
Fig. 9.4: RMC, Duntroon 1911. Steam tractor and boiler house.
In 1911—12, the second set of cadets barracks were
completed and the third commenced. Six wooden cottages
for non-commissioned officers were completed, and the
menege for training in cavalry equitation started. In the
following year, a small ammunition magazine and the
College gymnasium were constructed and by 1914, the
College construction was virtually finished off with the
completion of more NCO quarters, the gun park, a
pharmacy and small hospital, a small astronomical observatory
on Mt Pleasant, stables, a farriers shop and a
Construction continued until the effect of war economies
was felt from 1915. For the remainder of the war
and the post war period, little building was undertaken.
Indeed, reports up until the move initiated by the
Depression to Victoria Barracks in Sydney in 1930
repeatedly indicated difficulties in maintaining the
buildings due to shortages in repair and maintenance
It is of note that the cadets barracks, which were
designed as temporary shells housing furniture and fittings
to be subsequently used in permanent buildings, were still
in use as barracks when the College moved to Sydney in
1930. It might be observed that the military interpretation,
or acceptance of the word “temporary” was as broad half a
century ago as today.
The first major horizontal construction was the parade
ground, 80 metres long by 70 metres wide with a gravel
surface, built in 1911. In 1914—15, gravelled roads and
stormwater drainage were formed and graded.
Duntroon was not selected as a site for the College until
the Department of Home Affairs gave an assurance that a
sufficient supply of pure drinking water could be
The arrangements proposed were that until the Federal
Capital supply was available, rainwater from the roofs
should be stored for drinking, and water from a shallow
well on the flats used for washing and other purposes. An
oil engine was used to pump the well water to a 30,000
gallon reservoir on the hill above the College, and the
water was passed fit for human consumption, fortunately,
as the rainwater system was incomplete.
The following year a larger rising main and a new engine
were installed. The need for a larger reservoir had already
become evident. A shortage of water prevented the College
opening after the Christmas break in February 1919, but in
September of that year the Cotter Dam supply was
connected to the College. Flooding irrigation from the
Molonglo river was used effectively for the College
vegetable gardens from 1920.
Fig. 9.5: Robert Campbell’s Duntroon homestead, 1870.
Fig. 9.6: RMC, Duntroon 1910. Construction of Cadet barrack block.
Sewerage. Initially a pan system operated by a Queanbeyan
contractor was used. While reported as a satisfactory
service, attention was also drawn in reports to a
much needed extension of the College grounds for the
depositing of night soil. By 1912 a septic tank had been
constructed and water closets were being substituted for
Heating. A steam engine supplied steam for the laundry,
cooking, heating the cadets mess and barracks, and
running a saw bench. The barracks heating system was
completed by June 1912 and functioned effectively.
Electricity. In 1911 an electric light plant, consisting of a
28 hp oil engine, dynamo and accumulator battery of the
types used in forts of the period, was set up and operated
by Royal Australian Engineers. The Federal Capital
electricity supply service had been promised for 1912, and
the plant was then to be used for instruction in searchlights
and other purposes. In the event, the Federal supply was
not connected until 1915 and gas plant and oil lamps were
used to supplement the system.
Return to Canberra
The College returned to Duntroon in 1937 after a series of
new buildings had been erected around the parade ground
and repair and maintenance carried out on the existing
The 1939—45 war again saw economies, and no significant
development occurred until the 1950s. In the ten years
from 1952—62 many facilities were constructed under the
control of the Department of Works and Housing and
partly by Royal Australian Engineer Unit detachments.
Another expansion occurred with the increasing numbers
and the development of the Faculties of Engineering, Arts
and Science in the early 1970s.
Possibly the most significant construction in the post
war period has been the Royal Military College Anzac
Memorial Chapel. The Chapel comprises two wings — the
combined Protestant and Anglican Chapel and the Roman
Catholic Chapel — under a common narthex and was
constructed by Royal Australian Engineer Sapper tradesmen
and completed in 1966.
Since 1936, the responsibility for works matters in the
College has been vested in an officer of the Royal
Australian Engineers in the appointments of Staff Officer
Engineer Services (1936—1952), Staff Officer Royal
Engineers (1952), Deputy Commander Royal Engineers
(Works) RMC (1952—58), Staff Officer Grade 2 (Works)
RMC (1958—59), Commander Royal Engineers (Works)
RMC/ACT (1968—74) and Chief Engineer ACT (1974—
Military Engineering Instruction
One of the considerations when establishing the College
was whether to carry out training for all Arms at one
school, as at the US Military Academy at West Point and
the Royal Military College of Canada at Kingston, or at
different schools as in England and France. The Royal
Military College at Sandhurst educated candidates for
commissions in Cavalry, Infantry and Army Service
Corps. The Royal Military Academy at Woolwich produced
officers for the technical corps of Royal Artillery
and Royal Engineers. The answer was decided by the small
numbers to be trained. Thirty-two Australian and ten New
Zealand cadets entered the College in 1911. The number of
artillery and engineer graduates required then, and in the
forseeable future, made separate schools impractical.
Duntroon, then, was to produce the officers of the Royal
All cadets undertook the same course. Approximately
half the four-year course was devoted to military instruction
and half to civil subjects, the latter being concentrated
mainly in the first two years. Civil subjects
included Mathematics, English, Modern Languages,
Physics and Chemistry. The Military subjects were
Military Geography and History, Tactics, Artillery,
Military Engineering, Drawing, Administration and Law,
Topography and Drill and Physical Training.
The aim of the instruction in Military Engineering was
to provide a good general knowledge for regimental or staff
officers in any branch of the service. About 15 per cent of
the military instruction was devoted to the subject.
Military engineering of the day consisted mainly of work
on field defences and assistance to the mobility of infantry
and cavalry units. It was intensive in manpower,
accordingly most of the instruction at Royal Military
College was practical, much of it carried out during annual
camps on the Molonglo River or the plains around
Instruction to first year cadets (Fourth Class) was
intended to prepare them for such camps. The curriculum
covered the planning and laying out of works, design of
simple earthworks, and the provision of water, cooking
and sanitary arrangements for camps. Instruction to
second year cadets (Third Class) was limited to practical
application of these camping procedures and an introduction
to obstacles, knots and lashings, and use of tackles
and spars. Third year cadets (Second Class) spent most of a
six week camp on Military Engineering. As well as furthering
the understanding and application of work already
covered, they moved onto design and construction of
bridges, including trestle and suspension types, and rafts.
Another use for tackles and spars was for field machines for
construction of artillery observation posts.
Instruction to fourth year cadets (First Class) included
floating and suspension bridges, demolitions, sapping and
mining and theoretical aspects of roads, railways and
telegraphs, coast defences and lights, and wireless stations.
The Royal Australian Engineers were, at that time,
responsible for field engineering, fortress engineering and
power supplies, mining and railway engineering and
survey and signals.
As there was at the time of the foundation of the College
no engineer officer in the Australian forces both available
and competent to instruct in Military Engineering,
it was decided to obtain an officer of the Royal Engineers.
Captain R.L. Wailer RE was the first, followed by
Lieutenant R.P. Pakenham-Walsh RE. When Pakenham-
Walsh left in May 1915, his place was temporarily taken
by Lieutenant R. Park RAE, pending a replacement.
Although the British War Office was asked to nominate a
convalescent officer, none was forthcoming and from that
time the appointment was filled by officers of RAE. Many
notable RAE officers served as Instructor Military
Engineering in the following years including Lt Col
V.A.H. Sturdee, DSO, OBE (1924—25) and Lieutenant
M.F. Brogan (1939—40) each of whom later became Chief
of the General Staff.
The first intake of cadets was commissioned early, in
August 1914, ten days after Australia’s declaration of war.
Of the twenty-seven Australians to graduate, three went to
Light Horse, eleven to Artillery, two to Engineers and
eleven to Infantry. The Second Class also graduated in
1914, more than twelve months prematurely. By the end of
the war one-hundred-and-fifty-eight Duntroon graduates
had seen active service. Of these, forty-two were killed and
Fig. 9.7: RMC, Duntroon 1911. Senior officers’ quarters under construction.
Fig. 9.8: RMC, Duntroon 1911. Four of the five senior
Fig. 9.9: RMC, Duntroon 1912. Menage. Riding School.
Much of the engineer instruction was of practical lasting
value to the young College and, at times, to the district. In
1916, Second Class constructed a 45 metre long suspension
footbridge across the Molonglo River as part of its
annual camp. This bridge remained in use until July 1922
when the biggest flood for many years washed it away,
along with several other bridges in the district. Occasionally,
cadets and staff were able to undertake interesting
activities outside the curriculum. In 1918, the Instructor
Military Engineering, Major O.W.E. Robson, RAE, was
able to undertake what is thought to be the first demolition
trials in Australia using trinitrotoluene. Tests were
conducted using a large steel girder and 60 lb railway plate.
Although the girder was not completely cut, Major
Robson concluded that the explosive was as effective as
three or four times the same weight of guncotton,. He
considered that guncotton was likely to remain the leading
service explosive as the slabs were easy to handle whereas
the TNT powder had to be contained, in this case in a
calico tube. Some months later, Major Robson repeated
the trials using double the charge, to successfully cut the
girder. He had changed his opinion of the new explosive,
considering that the powdered form was easily handled
and gave close contact with the target. He concluded that
the diameter of explosive tube should be four times the
thickness of steel.
The curriculum changed little until the early 1920s. In
1923 military work occupied 55 per cent of the programme,
still concentrated in the last two years. Military
Engineering occupied only six per cent of the military
instruction time but was worth 11 per cent of the marks.
The changes in warfare during World War I and, in particular,
technological advances, meant that military
engineering was becoming less of an all-arms responsibility
and more of a specialist skill. All First Class cadets were
given some instruction in civil engineering, such as
calculation of strength of beams and girders. In 1925, First
Class cadets were introduced to reinforced concrete
design, including design of reinforced concrete bridges.
The remaining instruction in Military Engineering
varied little from that of the 1911 curriculum except that
the amount of time devoted in various classes varied from
year to year. In 1923, there was no instruction in Fourth
Class and only instruction in elementary theory in Third
Class. Second Class was instructed in earthworks, field
geometry, knots and lashings, use of tackles and spars, and
light testle bridging. First Class moved onto floating,
suspension and framed trestle bridging, demolitions and
The requirements of the Army in the early 1930s were
such that there was no intake in 1931 and the cadet strength
was only 31. In the interest of economy, the College was
temporarily moved to Victoria Barracks in Sydney in 1931.
During this year, First Class cadets commenced specialist
training in the fields to which they would graduate. The
requirement for qualified engineers in RAE was well
recognised and so specialist training for selected potential
engineer officers was directed at preparing them for third
year university courses in engineering. It included instruction
in civil engineering by both the Instructor,
Military Engineering and academic lecturers, visits to
engineering works and projects, and attachment to RAE
When the College moved back to Duntroon in 1937,
specialist training continued with one or two First Class
cadets receiving additional instruction in a variety of
subjects, primarily aimed at further study in civil or
mechanical engineering. To meet a requirement for more
officers in the later 1930s, the course was shortened to
three years in 1938, with two classes graduating. The
course was eventually shortened to two years during
World War II, necessitating the dropping of some civil
subjects and limiting the scope of instruction in some
Military Engineering. The training was aimed at enabling
graduates in non-engineer arms to carry out their own field
works, thereby reducing demands on engineer units.
Emphasis was placed on self help and expedient works and
accordingly training was mostly practical with a minimum
of time spent in classrooms. During World War II, the
practice of sending RMC Engineering graduates to the
third and fourth years of Engineering at Sydney University
was discontinued. Specialist training continued but with
the emphasis on field engineering.
The RMC course returned to a four year duration in
1947. In the same year specialist training reverted to one
demolished with technical emphasis aimed at preparation for university.
In 1948 the common academic course for all cadets
was discontinued and separate courses in Arts and Science
were introduced. A further course in Engineering was
introduced in 1949.
As occurred after World War I, changes in technology
on the battlefield affected the training requirement at
RMC. Increased emphasis was placed on minewarfare and
equipment bridging, including the new Bailey Bridge. It
was impractical and uneconomical to carry out much of
this training at RMC. In 1940, Third Class spent a week at
the School of Military Engineering at Casula, NSW,
undergoing training, mainly in bridging and watermanship.
Cadets had undergone training at SME on previous
occasions, but never on a regular basis. The success of the
1940 and subsequent visits was such that it remained a
regular annual visit, generally for Third Class, until 1969
after which it was discontinued. During this period, the
aspects of Military Engineering which were studied remained
roughly the same. They covered demolitions,
minewarfare, booby traps, obstacles, water supply, field
surveying, roads, bridging and engineer services. The
presentation of the subject varied considerably. Sometimes
it was all given in First Class, other times none in First
Class and sometimes spread over all classes.
Fig. 9.10: RMC, Duntroon 1913. Menage Riding School
Fig. 9.11: RMC, Duntroon. Astronomical observatory on
Mt. Pleasant used for instruction of cadets. Now demolished
The adoption of three separate academic courses in 1949,
and the many changes to the RMC curriculum that
followed are described by Professor Arthur Corbett in
ROYAL AUSTRALIAN NAVAL COLLEGE, JERVIS BAY
The RAN College, Jervis Bay, is situated partly on land
granted to the Commonwealth in 1909 and partly on land
granted in 1915. The consolidation of Commonwealth
property at Jervis Bay was completed in 1915 when the
State of NSW granted to the Commonwealth Crown
Lands and also Sovereign Rights over an area of about 7200
hectares for the purpose of the Seat of Government. This
was effected under the Seat of Government Surrender
(State) and Acceptance (Commonwealth) Acts. At that
time it was intended to establish a Federal Port in the
vicinity at some future date.
A conference to discuss requirements for a Naval
College was held early in 1912 between the Minister for
Defence, the Minister for Home Affairs, Capt. Chambers,
RN (Captain designate for the College) and the Director of
Works, and in May the Department of Home Affairs
prepared to go ahead with the building. Negotiations with
the NSW Government for the provision of a railway to
connect Captain’s Point, Jervis Bay with Nowra were
undertaken and in July 1912, a survey commenced for both
this line and for a railway to connect Captain’s Point with
the Federal Capital.
By July 1913, progress had been made with the single
officers quarters, with parts of the cadets accommodation,
the academic block, the engineering workshop and with
the power house; work was still to begin on the married
officers quarters, the wharf and administrative blocks.
Early in 1914, the Prime Minister asked for a reduction
in expenditure in the building programme, including a
reduction in the size and number of married quarters for
officers and men and postponement of building of some
No documents other than plans relating to the design
and construction of the College are known to exist and the
names of individual architects of the Public Works Branch
of the Department of Home Affairs involved in the work
Although the site and buildings were not finished, the
College moved from Geelong over Christmas 1914 and
training began in early 1915 with commissioning of the site
as HMAS Franklin. When the cadets moved in, the boat-
house and slip and the piers together with many minor
items were incomplete.
During 1915, the breakwater was extended to about 240
metres, the stone being quarried just to the east of the
College area and delivered by a railway line running along
the shore. Other works included two classrooms either
side of the laboratory building, the stables and the
By the end of 1915, the College comprised about sixty
buildings which accommodated the cadets, naval personnel
and civilian employees. Materials used in the
construction of the buildings were concrete, hardwoods
and weatherboard. The dark red wood with white stucco
and concrete and red roofing tiles gave the College a
distinctive style. The roads and paths were of white
sandstone top-dressed with red iron-stone gravel. As the
area was bushland with no humus and almost pure sand,
grasses and 2,000 seedling trees were planted to reduce
wind blown sand.
At the end of 1921 the number of cadets at the College
was drastically reduced as was the number of staff. The
Navy vote was much reduced in 1929—30 and a hasty
decision was made to move the College to Flinders Naval
Depot in Victoria at the end of 1930.
Fig. 9.12: RMC, Duntroom 1911. Electric light plant adapted from a fortress installation.
Fig. 9.13: RMC, Duntroon 1912. Trestle bridge built by cadets for military engineering training.
Fig. 9.14: RMC, Duntroon 1912. Suspension bridge built by cadets for military engineering training.
Fig. 9.15: RMC, Duntroon 1918.A Polienski raft carrying an 18 pounder gun and limber. Built by cadets for military
Fig. 9.16: RMC, Duntroon 1916 45 metre suspension footbridge across Molonglo River. Built by cadets for military
Fig. 9.17: RMC, Duntroon 1912. Constructing an artillery observation post using field machines as part of cadets’ military
Fig. 9.18: RMC Duntroon 1912. Erecting Artillery observation post using field machines.
From 1930 until the College returned and was commissioned
as HMAS Creswell in 1958, little changed, the
buildings being maintained and used for various Government
purposes and as a holiday resort.
Professional Training at RAN College
The professional Naval subjects taught to cadets at the
College were: seamanship, gunnery, navigation and
engineering. The engineering workshop and the power
house used for the normal running and maintenance of the
watercraft and the College were used for engineering
The first Engineer Officer of the College was Engineer
Commander W.A. Monk, RN who returned to the UK at
the end of 1914 and served during the war in destroyers.
Instruction in engineering was given to all cadets
whether they were to pass out as Engineers or not. The aim
was to give instruction in the different types of engines
used in a warship and a general insight into the working of
power driven machinery. Workshop Practice and Mechanical
Drawing were also studied. The year’s syllabus for
Practical Engineering in the 1930s included the following
In 1921, the Engineering Course was recognised as a
matriculation course. Until 1968, subsequent professional
engineering training was undertaken at the Royal Naval
Engineering College in England. In 1968, accreditation
was given to RANC to conduct, selected University of
NSW Courses in Engineering. The first year level is conducted
at RANC Jervis Bay and the following years are
completed at the University of New South Wales.
Fig. 9.19: RMC, Duntroon 1912. Artillery observation
post ready for use.
Fig. 9.20: RMC, Duntroon 1919. Cadets engaged in military engineering training in demolition with gun-cotton slabs.
Fig. 9.21: RANC, Jervis Bay 1913. Power house and engineering workshops. Used for engineering instruction.
Proposals to make Canberra the centre for RAN long distance
wireless communications were first made in 1925. In
1937, sites for a transmitting station and a receiving station
were selected at Belconnen and Red Hill respectively and
approval to start construction was given on 6 September
1938. Work commenced at Belconnen in November and at
Harman in early 1939.
The Transmitting station was established on 20 April
1939, with one 200 kw long wave, one 10 kw short wave
and two 20 kw short wave transmitters. The first transmission
was made on 22 December, and the Receiving Station
was also completed that month.
The Canberra Times of Wednesday, 12 April 1939 re-ported.
‘The first batch of 30 naval officers and ratings to operate and
guard the powerful short wave naval radio base at Canberra
will arrive here next Monday. They will form the advance
guard of the 200 men who will occupy the two naval villages
now being established on either side of Canberra, 11 miles
(17.5 km) apart. The base will be the most powerful naval
wireless station in the British Empire, and the largest naval
or commercial station in the southern hemisphere.’
Future WRANS telegraphists (at first called Women’s
Emergency Signal Corps) joined on 28 April, 1941 and by
the end of World War II exceeded 300 in number; today,
WRANS are integrated into all departments in Harman,
including electrical technicians employed on maintaining
the radio equipment.
The Transmitting and Receiving Stations were both
commissioned as HMAS Harman on 1 July 1943 and in
1949 the Navy requested permission to build a new Receiving
Station at Bonshaw. The station was completed in 1955
and the direction finding hut in 1956.
HMAS Harman is now the home of the Naval Communications
Station (NAVCOMMSTA) Canberra, which
comprises the Communications Centre at Harman itself,
the Receiving Station at Bonshaw, and the Transmitting
Station at Belconnen (where there are now 40 transmitters).
Fig. 9.22: RANC, Jervis Bay 1913. Power house used for engineering instruction.
ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE
A Royal Australian Air Force squadron (No. 8) was
stationed at Canberra in September 1939 on the outbreak
of World War II. Some of the personnel subsequently
joined the RAAF station established in April 1940. Until
the end of the war, the station was an operations base for
antisubmarine patrols and a training school for joint
Australian squadrons based at Canberra during the war
were Nos 4, 8 and 13 squadrons and three Dutch squadrons
from the Netherlands East Indies which arrived in
Australia after the fall of Java to the Japanese.
The Canberra station was reformed in 1952 as Head-
quarters RAAF, Canberra, and Base Squadron, Canberra.
Subsequently the name was changed in both instances to
‘Fairbairn’, thus conforming with the name of the airfield
used also as a civil airport. (The full story of the development
of both civil and military aviation at Canberra is dealt
with in Chapter Eleven).
No. 2 School of Technical Training
The first RAAF installation at Canberra was the No. 2
School of Technical Training which was originally formed
on 18 December 1939 as the No. 2 Civil Training Centre.
Its purpose was to provide efficient technical trades
training for RAAF personnel under the Empire Air
The training centre was situated at the RAAF Station,
Canberra in the area where barracks were being erected for
the developing station. Technical training policy provided
that the first course for one hundred trainees would receive
fitting instruction at the Canberra Technical College, and
suitable arrangements were made to that effect with the
The first sixty trainees were posted to the unit on 19
December 1939, followed by a further fifty-one on 5
February 1940. By 20 February 1940 the establishment was
ready to train up to 316 trainees.
Construction of new barracks at Canberra Technical
College in Kingston commenced in mid-May 1940. With
an average of fifty men employed on construction, the
seventeen buildings for the school, including a small
hospital and eight accommodation huts, were ninety-nine
per cent complete by the end of June, progress being so
satisfactory that construction was a month ahead of
schedule. Being eager to occupy its new accommodation,
the school moved from the RAAF Station to Kingston on I
July 1940. It was finally disbanded on 16 November 1945
when wartime training requirements ceased.
During its existence, the unit conducted a variety of
trade training courses for aircraft maintenance, along with
many non-technical courses. Altogether, 578 courses were
conducted between December 1939 and July 1945, with
some 3,921 students passing through the School.
Shortly after the end of World War lithe ACT was again
called upon to support the RAAF training system, but this
time under peacetime pressures resulting from an overloading
of facilities and capabilities of the technical training
establishment at RAAF Base Wagga. This led to the
formation of a Detachment B of the Ground Training
School at RAAF Base, Fairbairn which functioned
between 30 October 1951 and 17 September 1953.
With the introduction of progressively more complex
aircraft, the RAAF found in 1962 that there was a need to
conduct training at Units to fit basically-trained tradesmen
to work on the specific types of aircraft being operated.
Today, the two Squadrons based at Fairbairn conduct field
training courses in all the aircraft trades to provide the
range of skills needed for operation of the Utility Helicopter
and VIP fleets.
However, whilst no pure engineering instruction has
been given at either No. 2 School of Technical Training or
RAAF Base Fairbairn, both organisations have contributed
much to providing the increasing range and depth of
skills needed to support modern aircraft in both peace and
In March 1940, the RAAF was informed that approximately
32 hectares of land at Gungahlin had been acquired from
Dr J.F. Watson. Construction of a wireless transmitting
station began without delay, and in mid-1942 the RAAF
formally established and occupied the RAAF Gungahlin
Wireless Transmitting Station. From its beginning to the
end of the war it was a joint Navy and Air Force venture,
though today it is wholly owned and operated by the
RAAF on behalf of the Meteorological Bureau.
Since 1932, the RAAF has been regularly broadcasting
weather information for the Bureau. Initially, these
broadcasts were made in morse code by hand and later by
automatic morse and radio teletypes. Today, modern
equipment has been installed which introduces the
‘Facsimile Weather Chart Broadcasts’ bringing RAAF
broadcasts to a standard equal to the world’s best. The
information presented is invaluable to both civil and
service aircraft, shipping and weather forecasts. Indeed,
this is a far cry from the very modest beginnings of the
RAAF’s Meteorological Section at Canberra in November
1940. The newly-formed Section was then housed in the
civil hangar at the aerodrome and consisted of three
officers and one observer, responsible for forecasting prevailing
weather conditions up to within a 160 km radius of
ENGINEERING IN THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE
The Department of Defence Central staffs past and present
with engineering functions include:
Defence Industry and Material Policy Division
This Division establishes policies and standard systems
from the Defence industrial point of view for the presentation
and processing of the Services equipment
proposals. The engineers in this Division are civilians.
The Chiefs of Naval Materiel, Army Materiel and Air
Force Materiel coordinate the development of each
Service’s new proposals for major equipment from the
conceptual stage to the letting of contracts. Although the
three Services vary in their methods of operation, these
staffs are generally engineering oriented. The Naval Chief
of Materiel, Rear Admiral W.J. Rourke, AO, MEc,
FRINA, FIE Aust. and a recent Army Chief of Materiel
Major-General D.F.W. Engel, AO, CBE, BE (Civil), FIE
Aust. are engineers.
Defence Facilities Division
This Division incorporates the Directors-General of
Accommodation and Works for the three Services. It deals
with the civil engineering requirements of Defence and
Service establishments. In the case of the Army, this office
is to a large extent manned by officers of the Royal
Australian Engineers. One of the Army’s engineering
directorates — Director of Fortifications and Works —
lost its interesting name when incorporated into the
Defence Department organisations in 1970.
The Chief of Naval Technical Services, the Director-
General, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering — Army
and the Chief of Air Force Technical Services formulate the
engineering and maintenance policies for their own
Services and those common to all Services.
The Quality Assurance and Engineering Resources
Covers Defence Central and joint Services policies on
quality assurance, technical resources and repair and
maintenance. The Directors of Naval Ordnance Inspections,
Naval Quality Assurance, and the Directors-
General of Quality Assurance, Army and Air Force each
have engineering staffs in their own Service offices.
The Engineering Analysis Directorate provides policy
proposals on the use of industrial engineering, work study
and value analysis.
Defence Communications System
The Operations and Engineering Branch of the Defence
Communications System Division is involved in the
construction, operation and maintenance of the Defence
Communications System and for its engineering and
Laboratories and Trials
The Service Laboratories and Trials Division planned and
executed trials of Service equipment. It maintained a source
of engineering design, development and modification for
defence force equipment. Two engineers, Air Vice-
Marshall R. Noble, AO, BE, FIE Aust., and Rear Admiral
D.F. Lynam CBE, FIE Aust., were occupants of the post
of Chief of this Division, which has recently been dispersed
among other Branches.
Until 1960, the Department of Navy’s Naval Technical
Services Branch, under the then Third Naval Member (and
Chief of Naval Technical Services) of the Australian
Commonwealth Naval Board, was located in Melbourne,
when it moved to Canberra.
During the Defence re-organisation approved as a result
of the Tange Report in the early 1970s, the Naval Board
was dissolved and the Third Naval Member’s title became
Chief of Naval Technical Services.
From 1976 the Naval Technical Services Division of the
Department of Defence progressively moved across to its
new home in Campbell Park Offices, culminating in the
Chief of Naval Technical Services moving there in 1978.
Campbell Park is now the permanent home for the
headquarters of Naval Engineering in Australia.
Within Navy Office, the Naval Technical Services
Division consists of Design Branch, Dockyards and
Maintenance Branch and Production Branch. Among
other Directorates are those of Naval Aircraft
Engineering, Naval Ship Design, Naval Weapons Design
and Naval Communications Design. Ships and naval
weapons are either selected, developed, designed or
maintained as a result of efforts by this and other staffs of
Navy Office at Campbell Park.
Within the Operations Branch of Army Office, the
Director of Engineers is one of the Combat Arms
Directors alongside Armour, Artillery and Infantry. He
and his staff are members of the Royal Australian Engineers
who are the original military engineers and whose
role in close tactical support of the army in battle is to assist
that army to live, to move and to fight. The modern
military engineer still builds roads, bridges, and field
defences. He now uses specially designed explosives and
mechanical equipment to destroy those of the enemy.
Modern needs have widened his tasks to building tactical
airfields, rapidly-constructed equipment bridges and
ferries for tanks up to 60 tons weight, laying anti-tank
minefields and tank obstacles and breaching the enemies
minefields and obstacles. The expertise and policy for
developing these capacities stems from the Director of
Engineers Office at Campbell Park.
From the inception of the RAAF in 1921, until 1961, Air
Force Engineering management was centralised within the
Department of Air, which was located in Melbourne. In
1961, the Air Member for Technical Services, then Air
Vice-Marshal E. Hey, CB, CBE, moved from Melbourne
with the policy making elements of his Technical Branch,
as part of the transfer of the Department of Air to
Canberra. Today, the Chief of Air Force Technical
Services, provides Technical Services support for the
RAAF as part of an Air Force office which now forms part
of a single Department of Defence, the old Department of
Air organisation having lapsed with the Defence Force
organisation of 1972.
Although the engineering organisation within the
RAAF has been modified over the years to meet changes in
technology and operational needs, it has remained substantially
the same over recent years.
Engineering management is applied through Directorates
that deal essentially with Aircraft and their systems,
Telecommunications (Ground and Air) and Weapons. The
development of technical services policy and the management
of maintenance activities are the province of
Directors of Maintenance Plans and Technical Plans. The
plans and policies so developed are applied and managed in
detail by Headquarters Operational Command and Headquarters
Thus, finally, the central control of all Technical
Services functions in the RAAF, including pure engineering,
has moved and now resides within the Air Force
Office, in Canberra.
In my role as the collector and editor of papers on the many
aspects of engineering practised by the Department of Defence,
Royal Australian Navy, the Australian Army and the Royal
Australian Air Force in the ACT, I am indebted to the following:
Brigadier John McDonagh, FIE Aust. who initiated work on
this chapter prior to his departure from Canberra.
The Chiefs of Staff of the three Services and the Commandant
of the Royal Military College, Duntroon who supported the
project by allowing their staffs to take part as contributors with
access to official records.
Colonel L.H.R. Fuhrman (RL), Archivist Royal Military
College, Duntroon for assistance and access to records, and
loan of negatives of photographs.
The Chief of Naval Materiel, the Chief of Air Force Technical
Services and the Director General of Accommodation and
Works (Air Force) for their personal interest and contributions
by members of their staffs.
Commander V. Littlewood, RAN, Commanding Officer
HMAS Harman for his contribution on that establishment.
Major J. Burrough, BE, Chief Engineer (Army) ACT and
Major G. Kelly, MIE Aust., RMC for their contributions on
the Civil and Military Engineering History of RMC,
Flt.Lt. A. McGrath, BCE for his contributions on the RAAF.
Brigadier W.J. Urquhart, who was cadet No. I at RMC
Duntroon in 1911. He graduated into the Royal Australian
Artillery in 1914. Many of the early photographs reproduced
in this chapter were taken by him while a cadet at